View from India: AI-generated art, for art’s sake?
Image credit: Infosys
The Infosys Science Foundation (ISF) has awarded the winners of the Infosys Prize 2022 for significant contributions to research. The awards ceremony was held recently
The work of the winners has potential impact in the areas of accessible healthcare and diagnostics, inclusive economic and social policy design, a better understanding of our mental health and how our Constitution protects India’s democratic polity. The winners, across categories such as Engineering and Computer Science, Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences and Social Sciences were felicitated with a pure gold medal, a citation and a prize purse of US$100,000. The announcement about the winners of the Infosys Prize 2022 has already been reported in November 2022.
I would like to dwell on a few aspects highlighted by jury members. Like the discussion of the Universe by Prof. Shrinivas Kulkarni (California Institute of Technology) for Physical Sciences. “Going by astronomical investigations, when the Universe began 13.4 billion years ago, which we know as Big Bang, there was just helium and hydrogen gas. Then came 100 billion galaxies, each of which has around 100 billion stars,” said Prof. Kulkarni at the felicitation ceremony of the Infosys Prize 2022.
This in itself throws up many questions. For instance, how did the Universe go from gas-dominated space to one filled with galaxies? Many of us would love to know this. And Nissim Kanekar, Professor at National Centre for Radio Astronomy, Pune is no exception. He was intrigued by the manner in which stars formed. Inspiration came from radio astronomer Prof Govind Swarup, hailed as the ‘Father of Indian Radio Astronomy.’ From then on, Prof Kanekar began to research and diligently studied the galaxies. Years of pursuit finally made him a winner in the Physical Sciences category. To put it in his words, “There’s a desire to seek and find rationale behind many things. Several questions kept me up at night, more so as I was curious about astronomy. That led to fundamental physics.”
Equally engaging was the discussion by Prof. Chandrashekhar Khare (University of California, Los Angeles) the jury chair for Mathematical Sciences. He felt that the hardest questions of Math lies in the simplest of numbers. “AI may not work in the case of unresolved prime numbers. Number theory may work here as it abounds in unsolved questions. With number theory, prime numbers can be seen moving in a sporadic manner. The sporadic movement of the numbers gradually fall into a pattern through which they can be counted,” added Prof. Khare.
Japanese mathematician Kenkichi Iwasawa has understood this. His work on the algebraic number theory had caught the attention of Mahesh Kakde, Professor of Mathematics, Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Prof. Kakde scores for his contributions to the algebraic number theory, specifically the non-commutative Iwasawa main conjecture. What’s more, his work could have potential applications in computing and cryptography. That’s how he has won the award in the Mathematical Sciences category. “What makes Math interesting is the pleasure in solving problems or the search for patterns and ideas,” explained Prof Kakde.
Tools in cryptography help construct and de-construct trust in terms of confidential messages and digital signatures. Such applications would mean that trust is being put on technology. “The breakthroughs in science is commemorative. When we look at code breaking, it is a tool to gather information. It’s vital to protect data privacy. Then there’s the RSA cryptography, wherein the public and the private keys can encrypt a message. It finds applications in e-banking and e-commerce platforms, among others,” said Narayana Murthy, Founder, Infosys Limited, Trustee, Infosys Science Foundation.
Crypto is a means of building trust. To break down the process, we define a task, secure the solution and use mathematics to execute it. “Machine learning (ML) and data algorithms can facilitate economic growth. Example, ML can be used to sift the data and make sense of it. What emerges from it can find applications in solving infrastructure issues and energy problems, besides understanding traffic patterns and mindboggling financial matters. But in all these operations, it’s important to retain the privacy of the data while training ML algorithms,” explained Prof. Shafi Goldwasser, Chief Guest, Turing Award laureate and Director, Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing.
As for tools, it should help in scalability. To illustrate, let’s look at patient data in genomic applications. In gene sequencing, whose gene is being sequenced? Can we do privacy at scale and verify its accuracy? Here’s another situation. If the bank were to give a loan to a customer, ML can be used as a classifier. “An automated ML program with data algorithm can be developed to accept or reject the customer’s request. Customer profile along with an embedded digital signature verification could be the backdrop for decision making,” added Prof. Goldwasser.
The brochure of the Infosys Prize 2022 deserves mention. The image on the cover (pictured above) is the result of human-AI collaboration. That’s how an algorithm has reimagined Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Nights’ painting, only this time in Varanasi, India. That’s AI-generated art. What might Van Gogh have thought of it? Every technology holds in itself the ability to unleash great change. And everyone seems to agree that AI is possibly the most important development since electricity.
As we find ourselves on a new frontier, it demands of us a better imagination, which requires us to dig deep into the best of ourselves to forge a brave new world. Well, I leave you with this thought.
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